AUGUSTA — Not replacing as many 7-year-old laptops and other technology as planned, delaying $160,000 worth of buildings and grounds projects, replacing three school nurses with cheaper licensed practical nurses, eliminating the currently vacant drafting teacher position and the drafting program at Capital Area Technical Center, and eliminating Latin classes are among the potential cuts proposed to help close a $1 million school budget gap.

School board members and administrators are seeking to make up for a $1 million drop in state funding for the city’s schools. Superintendent James Anastasio warned the budget gap could swell to as much as $2 million if current proposals to ask taxpayers for more money don’t meet with the Augusta City Council’s approval.

On Wednesday, Anastasio presented recommendations that he said no administrators really wanted to do to balance the budget proposal.

If $400,000 more is taken from fund balance, it would leave a $675,000 budget gap, so the cuts discussed Wednesday were aimed at closing that $675,000 gap.

They included cutting $200,000 from spending on technology by only buying 400 new laptops or other devices instead of the planned 800. Anastasio said many of the machines are more than 7 years old and can’t run some modern programs.

Other potential cuts recommended Wednesday included cutting the buildings and grounds budget roughly in half, saving $160,000; eliminating the regional Capital Area Technical Center’s drafting program, which doesn’t have a teacher, saving $75,443; replacing three of the six school nurses with licensed practical nurses, saving $60,000; cutting Latin classes at Cony High School, one of four languages taught at the school, saving $60,000; cutting two half-time secretaries, saving $30,000; cutting a half-time literacy mentor position, which is vacant, at the middle school level, saving $30,000; spending $37,642 less on supplies; and cutting one of two study hall monitors at Cony, saving $22,200.

Board members also proposed taking $400,000 more from the schools’ $3.4 million fund balance, an account built up with money unspent in previous years and used to cover emergencies, bringing the amount being taken from that account to a total of more than $2 million to balance the budget.

Anastasio warned that taking more from the fund balance will leave less in the fund to help balance next year’s budget.

Amanda Bartlett, at-large board member, said some residents have expressed concern to her “there may be padding built into the budget,” and she wanted to have more budget details so she could address those fears. She said the fund balance of $3.4 million seemed high.

Anastasio explained that schools aren’t allowed to have contingency accounts, and the fund balance is built up from funds unspent in previous years. He said about $572,000 left in the salaries and benefits line last year went into fund balance. He said that may seem like a high number, but noted that was from a budget of about $9 million.

Ward 2 board member Deborah Towle said more should be taken from fund balance, because there isn’t anything left to cut from the budget that doesn’t affect children.

“The cuts last year hurt,” she said, “but the cuts we’re looking at now directly hurt our children. I say go further into fund balance, because historically it has come back. I feel like we need to use it, because these cuts are unacceptable.”

Anastasio said cuts have been made every year of the 10 years he’s worked in Augusta’s schools.

He said there is an alternative list of further cuts that could be discussed if board members reject some or all of the cuts on the first list.

Last year, Augusta got about $13.3 million in state funding. Based on initial projections, Anastasio and Business Manager Kathy Casparius included $13.3 million in state funding as revenue in the proposed budget the Augusta Board of Education is working on.

According to the preliminary state funding projections put online Feb. 19 by the state Department of Education, however, Augusta will get about $12.2 million in state funding based on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed two-year state budget.

The document notes the amounts are preliminary and could change before the Legislature takes final action on the budget.

The initially proposed budget, presented in late January, is up about $1.5 million, or 5.5 percent, and would increase the amount of money coming from taxpayers by 7 percent over last year’s school budget.

But that budget was based on Augusta receiving $13.3 million in revenue from the state, not the $12.2 million Augusta’s schools now are projected to get.

The board didn’t take public comment Wednesday. Kimberly Martin, chairwoman, said that will occur at a planned March 18 budget workshop.

Board members still were discussing the proposed cuts at presstime.

The school budget must be presented to the city by the end of March. The school budget is subject to approval by the school board, then by councilors as part of the overall city budget and ultimately by voters in a June 9 referendum.

The council chamber was packed for the meeting, though many of the seats were taken by members and leaders of a local Boy Scout troop who attended the session.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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